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Dream It/Do It: Education

Six ways to expand your child’s horizons, on two very different budgets.

by Tracy Chait

August 4, 2009

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Now that edutainment DVDs have been ruled more Daily News than New Yorker, it’s time to reevaluate how we teach wee ones to turn on their noggins – to the notes of Chopin, perhaps, or a Shakespearean sonnet.- Tracy Chait

For Babies:

Sign Language

Researchers say baby gesturing can build vocabulary, boost language learning and ease babies’ frustration when attempting to communicate. Even Robert De Niro tried it as uber-involved-grampa in Meet the Fockers.

The Dream

Find local classes through either Sign2Me, the site of baby sign expert Joseph Garcia, or BabySigns. Both programs charge about $150-200 per six-week session for parent-child classes, less for workshops exclusively for parents.

The Reality

Try using Michigan State’s American Sign Language Browser, which plays Quicktime video of popular signs so you can teach your baby at home (free). Or, say yes – a fist-like handshape you shake up and down – to flashcards, like these sign language flashcards from mocobabies, $25 for a set of 35.

Music

For decades, overeager parents have sung (hummed?) the praises of classical music as a means of early education, starting in the womb. Because music that makes you smart can’t have catchy lyrics.

The Dream

There’s Music Together, Kindermusik, Gymboree Music Classes and many locally-offered Suzuki method classes, all of which claim to increase literacy, language, math and reasoning skills. Prices vary, but you can expect to pay $30-40 per session – more for a private music instructor, less if you pre-pay for multiple classes.

The Reality

There are a gazillion classical music CDs specifically for babies and mothers-to-be, including the Mozart Series (CDs start at $6.98) and the Mozart for Mothers-to-Be, Bach for Babies and Beethoven for Babies trio of recordings done by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra ($6.99 each). Playing music and singing together is interactive learning and a means to develop your baby’s ear. And what about church services? There’s usually a choir, classical music and it happens at the same time and place every week. Babies can bounce and sway in pews and no one seems to mind if they cry out occasionally. Free, unless you feel guilty when the collection plate comes around.

Six ways to expand your child’s horizons, on two very different budgets.

by Tracy Chait

August 4, 2009

400x236.jpg

For Toddlers and Young Children:

Gourmet Food

For emerging foodies, it’s important to introduce palate-expanding flavors early.

The Dream

Kid-focused culinary school. Classes taught by Samantha Saffir-Barnes at Kitchen Kid in Los Angeles instruct little ones as young as 3 years to craft dishes like fish steamed en papillote with a citrus beurre blanc and lemon-marscarpone risotto. Tot Chefs (ages 3-6), $108 for three hour-long classes; Growing Gourmands (ages 7 and up), $390 for a weeklong, 5 day session. On the East coast, try a Culinary Walking Tour for kids and parents with Home Cooking New York, $400/4 people plus groceries. You’ll cruise such food-centric neighborhoods as Little India and Chinatown, and then you’ll go back to the studio to cook a meal with what you’ve bought.

The Reality

Stroll through your local farmer’s market, taking the time to let kiddos smell, touch and taste fresh food. (There are often free tours through markets like New York’s Greenmarket.) Then, with a kid-focused guide like The Kids’ Multicultural Cookbook (what kid doesn’t want to try ox-eye eggs?), try giving kids a bigger role in the kitchen, even if they make a mess.

Art Appreciation

Every preschool applicant worth his fingerpaint knows the difference between Picasso’s blue period and his Cubist phase. This information will also come in useful for male babies once they get older and want to pick up girls at museums.

The Dream

Depending on where you live, the dream and reality could converge on this one – major museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston all have outstanding programs for kids including hands-on activities, child-focused museum guides and a slew of different classes and workshops. If you live close to a major art museum, you’re living the dream. If not, a long road trip or weekend visit is a splurge to consider. Before you get there, try reading the online paper (pdf) “Looking at Art with Toddlers” by PhD Early Childhood Education experts from the Toledo Museum of Art and the Smithsonian. It’s five pages of big font explaining how to get the most out of your visit to the museum, from what questions to ask to what activities are appropriate once you’re back home.

The Reality

If you’re off the grid somewhere and can’t get to a major museum, places like the Met can come to you. Try interactive art-based online resources like the Met’s “Learn About Color” and “Aaron’s Awesome Adventure” (free!). Order up a bunch of postcards of famous paintings and create a set of flashcards to talk about with your child. With a little parent education, you can turn any illustrated book at home into an art lesson, asking your child about a picture’s mood, if its lines are straight or curvy, who is the picture about, can you pose like the figure in the picture? Try boning up on toddler art appreciation with two academic guides for parents and educators: Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art by Susan Striker and First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by MaryAnn F. Kohl, Renee F. Ramsey, Dana Bowman and Katheryn Davis. Both are available free online at Google Books: Young at Art here, First Art here.

Six ways to expand your child’s horizons, on two very different budgets.

by Tracy Chait

August 4, 2009

400x236.jpg

School-Age Children:

Urban Planning

Young tykes develop their understanding of spatial relationships early on, so while you’re skipping along through your neighborhood, Junior can learn the difference between sprawl and sustainability.

The Dream

World Tour of Planned Cities! Hit up Rome, Amsterdam, Bath, England, Brazil’s Modernist urban planning mecca Brasilia, planned cities throughout the Middle East and Singapore and then to the Northeast to tour New York City and Boston’s Back Bay. Let Junior’s sensory understanding develop along the way so that when he comes home and starts second grade, he refuses to go to a mini-mall or attend a playdate in tract housing. Estimated cost for around-the-world airline ticket: $1,500, plus lodging, food and local travel, for a total anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000.

The Reality

Newly published urban planning book for kids: Where Things Are, From Near to Far from Planetizen Press ($19.95). 20 color-splashed pages of kid-friendly New Urbanism you can look at and evaluate together before bed and plotting a family move to Italy.

A Little Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s works are vocabulary-building and full of fun insults to learn early on, like “You minimus, of hind’ring knotgrass made!” Little ones who seem destined toward future existential crises can try memorizing Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy – or at least, the first six words.

The Dream

Start out by introducing half-hour animated versions of Shakespeare’s most famous plays with BBC’s award-winning Shakespeare Animated Tales ($79.95), featuring the voice performances of such actors as Hugh Grant and Brian Cox. Once your child hits age 6, go to the highly regarded Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. This season, parents and aspiring bards alike can enjoy Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well. Macbeth is on the schedule, too, but there is that whole Lady Mac speech about dashing out infant brains – might be traumatic. Tickets range from $20-89 and kids ages 6-17 get 30% off. 8-11 year olds who want their own stage experience can participate in summer ChildsPlay workshops at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater for 12.50 per workshop, plus travel to London. If travel to the Globe is out of the question, pick up a Globe Theater Model Kit ($15.95) to stage productions at home.

The Reality

To Shakespeare’s delight, reality means books. Old school. Start reading from beautifully illustrated Poetry for Young People: William Shakespeare ($14.95) so your toddler will develop an ear for Shakespeare’s most beloved words. As kids grow older, you can try reading Sam Stars at Shakespeare’s Globe ($15.95, good for ages 4-8) and the Shakespeare Can Be Fun series (seven plays to choose from, $9.95 each, aimed at 7-8 year olds). Preteens will enjoy the brand new Manga series from the Folger library – so far Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar and Macbeth have been transformed into smart Japanese comics ($9.99 each). And for aspiring Shakespeare buffs, Fandex makes a Shakespeare Family Field Guide ($9.95, discount for Metropolitan Museum members), a hand-held deck of 50 fun facts about the bard, perfect for road trips and those finicky moments while waiting for the curtain to go up.

Article Posted 6 years Ago
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